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MacBook, Air, or Pro? Which Apple Laptop You Should Choose

Daniel Howley
Technology Editor
Yahoo Tech

Apple’s superslim MacBook is the newest of Apple’s shiny line of laptops. Joining the svelte MacBook Air and the high-powered MacBook Pro, the plainly named MacBook is a lightweight notebook designed for the person who needs the versatility of a real computer in a supercompact package.

But the featherweight body means tradeoffs. The MacBook may be incredibly thin, but it’s not as versatile as the MacBook Air or as powerful as the MacBook Pro. And there is a lot of price overlap between the models.

So which MacBook should you choose? Here are our recommendations, according to the feature that is most important to you.

Price

For what you get, the 12-inch MacBook is expensive. Pricing starts at $1,300 for a MacBook with a 1.1 GHz Intel Core M processor, 8 GB of RAM, and 256 GB of storage, or $1,600 for a MacBook with a 1.2 GHz Intel Core M processor, 8 GB of RAM, and 512 GB of storage.

An 11-inch MacBook Air, meanwhile, starts at $900 with a more powerful Intel Core i5 processor and 4 GB of RAM, but just 128 GB of storage. An 11-inch with an Intel Core i5 processor and 256 GB of storage costs $1,100, and an 11-inch with a high-powered Intel Core i7 processor and a 512 GB solid-state drive comes in at $1,650.

Step up to the 13-inch MacBook Air with the same specs, and you’ll have to add an extra $100.

A base-model 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display will cost you $1,300 with an Intel Core i5 processor, 8 GB of RAM, and 128 GB of storage. Jump up to the top-of-the-line 13-inch MacBook Pro with an Intel Core i7 processor, 16 GB of RAM, and a whopping 1 TB of storage space, and you’ll pay $2,700. 

The 15-inch MacBook Pro starts at $2,000 with an Intel Core i5 chip, 16 GB of RAM, and 256 GB of storage, and tops out at $3,200 with an Intel Core i7 processor, 16 GB of RAM, and 1 TB of memory.

What to buy: The $1,200 13-inch MacBook Air with an Intel Core i5 processor and 256GB solid-state drive is your best option.

The MacBook is a good buy only if you absolutely need something super-lightweight and aren’t interested in a ton of power.

If you want the most Mac power you can get in a laptop, the $2,500 MacBook Pro is by far your best bet.

Size

Apple’s MacBook is a super-lightweight laptop that puts the MacBook Air to shame. Even with its larger 12-inch screen, the 2-pound MacBook is lighter and smaller than the company’s previous featherweight, the 11-inch MacBook Air, which weighs in at 2.4 pounds.

In other words, the MacBook is more Air than the actual Air. The 13-inch MacBook Air, which is smack in the sweet spot of portability, price, and power for a lot of users, seems massive compared with the MacBook. And the Pros are just giants. In comparison.

What to buy: If size and weight are your key criteria, then your best option is without a doubt the new MacBook. Not only is it lightweight; it’s incredibly slim. You will forget that you’ve got it in your bag.

Screen

The new MacBook is the only Apple laptop available in just one screen size, 12 inches. That puts it right between the 11-inch MacBook Air and 13-inch MacBook Air. The MacBook Pro is available in 13-inch and 15-inch models.

But screen size isn’t everything. The new MacBook comes with a high-resolution Retina display, meaning that the MacBook has a sharper, better-looking screen than either model of MacBook Air, both of which which have lower-resolution panels.

The MacBook Pro is available with or without a Retina display. If screen sharpness is important to you, the extra cash for the Retina is worth it.

What to buy: Apple’s Retina display is absolutely gorgeous at any size. But the MacBook’s 12-inch screen is on the small side. If you want a display that’s relatively large and looks great, you’ll want to go with either the 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display or the 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display.

Performance

One way Apple was able to make the MacBook so thin was by using one of Intel’s new Core M processors. The chip uses less power than the Core i processors found in the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro, which means that it also produces less heat. Which means no fans. Which means smaller.

The Core M processor also sips power compared with a Core i chip, so the MacBook should run longer than the MacBook Air.

The downside is that the Core M processor isn’t particularly powerful. In fact, running processor-intensive apps such as photo and video editors next to the Core i-powered MacBook Air, the MacBook looks as though it’s standing still.

That’s not something you generally want in a $1,300 laptop.

But the MacBook isn’t meant to be a performance machine. This is a supersmall laptop designed for people on the go who want something they can use for basic word processing, Web browsing, and video streaming.

It goes without saying that the high-powered MacBook Pro easily tops the MacBook.

What to buy: The MacBook’s Core M processor is fine for Web browsing and streaming movies, but if you need your laptop to do heavy lifting, you’ll want the Core i-powered MacBook Air or MacBook Pro.

Battery life

Inside, the MacBook is mostly battery. Apple developed special layered batteries to fill the laptop’s superslim body. 

As a result, the MacBook gets an impressive 9 hours of battery life. That’s about the same amount of time that Apple says its MacBook Air and MacBook Pro last on a charge.

What to buy: This round has to be a tie, as the MacBook, MacBook Air, and MacBook Pro each last about the same amount of time.

Ports

Here’s where things get interesting. The MacBook is one of the first computers to come with the new USB Type-C port. The port to end all ports, USB Type-C not only can transfer data but also can carry video and audio, as well as be used to power your laptop.

What’s more, USB Type-C is seriously small, so smartphone makers will eventually be using the port with their handsets. That means you’ll be able to use the same cable to power your laptop that you use to charge your smartphone. Oh, and USB Type-C is reversible. You can use either end of the cable and turn it any way you want; it will work.

That’s all well and good, but a USB Type-C is all the MacBook has. Yes, a single port. Want to charge your computer and sync your iPhone at the same time? You’ll need to get a $79 adapter.

The MacBook Air has two USB 3 ports, an SD card slot, and a Thunderbolt port, while the MacBook Pro has two USB 3 ports, an SD card slot, and two Thunderbolt ports. 

What to buy: If you’re the kind of person who does everything wirelessly, the MacBook is the laptop for you.

But if you need ports to connect your iPhone, printer, external mouse, or anything else you can think of while keeping your laptop charged, go with the MacBook Air or MacBook Pro.

Email Daniel Howley at dhowley@yahoo-inc.com; follow him on Twitter at @DanielHowley or on Google+.